Responsible journalism and Trillanes expose’

Time was when the newsroom was considered a hallowed ground where only the truth should be printed and, in the case of radio and TV, aired.

“Check, double check and triple check,” was the caution that editors would tell aspiring reporters who were submitting their first stories.

It has always been said that there are three versions in a story: the pro, the anti and the truth.

As a 17-year-old working student and cub reporter, I learned the ropes of journalism the hard way. The basics I learned from veterans Tony Ajero, then news director of UMBN, and a young lawyer Jess Dureza, then editor of Mindanao Times.

I have had my editorial lapses too when I was national editor of the Philippine News Agency and later senior copy editor of Tempo.

Embarrassing but forgivable for there was no malice in those editorial lapses.

Looking at the way the mainstream media handle the alleged “expose” of Senator Antonio Trillanes, however, I am both scared and saddened by what’s happening with our media institutions these days.

Here are some of the reasons why I am saddened:

1. Why would a respectable newspaper like the Philippine Daily Inquirer carry as its banner story the claim of Trillanes that leading presidential candidate Rody Duterte was keeping hundreds of millions in his bank accounts without first verifying the documents presented by the senator? Certainly, a newspaper like the Inquirer which built its reputation on balanced news, fearless views would have to verify and validate first before publishing such an explosive story with a few days to go before a tightly contested presidential elections. Surely, there should have been due diligence in checking out the facts and it is now clearly pointed out by simple netizens that even the dates of the deposits of millions of pesos in Duterte’s accounts in 2011 fell on a Sunday, a non-banking day. A netizen doing a better research work than a newspaper which is manned by grizzled veterans in newspapering?

2. Why would the Inquirer come up with another banner story screaming: “Duterte Admits Having Less than P200-M in Bank.” This is an outrageously misleading headline because it turned out that the “less the P200-M” turned out to be P17,000 and P27,000 in two accounts. Is it not standard editorial practice that the reporter should be squeezed on the exact amount? Less than P200-M but greater than what amount? should have been the question asked by the editors from the reporter. I am not saying that I am a better editor than the editors in the Inquirer national desk most of whom are my friends – Joey Nolasco, Jun Bandayrel and Jun Engracia but these are serious editorial lapses which place the integrity and reputation of the country’s biggest newspaper under a huge question mark. Added to that is the noticeable overplaying of stories about Mar Roxas (like that report that Roxas was received like a rock star by a few hundred members of the Makati Business Club) and underplaying, even burying in the inside pages, the huge rally of Duterte in Alabang which many say is one of the biggest crowds in the history of politics in that part of the country. I am not going to impute anything but perhaps this should serve as a wake up call to the Inquirer editors. Hey guys, people are starting to notice the bias. Do not let another netizen, who may be is just a high school graduate, point out serious lapses in editorial judgements.

3. The country’s biggest TV network, ABS-CBN, has been showing scandalous bias in favour of those who attack Duterte. A reporter, Ron Gagalac, was caught red-handed twisting the statement of presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago to make it appear that she was castigating Duterte when in fact she was not. In the handling of the Trillanes expose’, ABS-CBN fell head over heels in airing the allegations again without using research and validation. Worse, even after the face-off in the BPI where lawyer Salvador Panelo who was representing Duterte confronted Trillanes with questions on how he acquired the information about Duterte’s accounts and even after presenting a Special Power of Attorney to BPI officials asking for a certification on the existence of the P211-M in Duterte’s accounts, ABS-CBN still came up with a twisted story saying that the Duterte camp refused to divulge his bank records.

The other big network, like GMA7, is just as guilty with its obvious bias against Duterte. The only saving grace of the industry would easily be CNN Philippines and TV5 both of which have been very objective in their reporting.

These actuations by the major media entities is a sad testimony on how corruption has penetrated even the institutions which are supposed to be the mirror of the sentiments of society.

The only problem with corruption in the media is that unlike politicians and government workers who could easily be crucified in the media and hailed to the anti-graft court, media men could always seek protection behind two impenetrable shields – Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press.

Indeed, Duterte is right: this country needs a total transformation or even a revolution. | Emmanuel PiƱol

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